The long, agonizing wait for a dual-core, LTE-capable Android smartphone at Verizon Wireless is over, as the Motorola Droid Bionic has arrived, bringing with it the optimal Android experience for which so many have been waiting. Concerns about whether the Bionic's battery performance might be a killjoy for some power users are not without credence, but overall, the Droid Bionic looks like a solid, if pricey, bet for the Android lover.
A Piece of Work
The Droid Bionic is arguably Motorola's best work, if not its most complete. The specs alone will turn heads. The Bionic, which comes running Android Gingerbread (2.3.4), features a 4.3-inch qHD touchscreen, dual-core 1 GHz processor, 1 GB RAM, hotspot functionality for up to five devices, front-facing camera and an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera with 1080p video capture. Did I mention it supports Verizon's LTE? Oh yeah, that's the other big reason that Android users have been patiently waiting for this device.
The Bionic offers Motorola's usual Android experience, with five home screens. Animations and page movements showed virtually no lag due to that dual-core processor mentioned earlier, and for the uninitiated Android user, the company has pre-installed a help module that offers a variety of videos on how to use the phone. There are four flat buttons at the bottom of the phone – Menu, Home, Back and Search, with a single chrome volume toggle along the side.
iPhone users can brag about the merits of iOS all they want, but they're missing out on some really slick personalization options offered on the Android platform. As an iPhone user myself, I'm always jealous of the home screen widgets available for Android that allow users to create live icons for contacts and social network feeds. The Bionic comes replete with both, as well as the option to add any number of other home screen toys.
In all, the Bionic is representative of the kind of experience that has seen Android continue to gobble market share. It's a fast, easy-to-use, if pricey, smartphone aimed at the power user.
Battery and LTE
The Bionic is built for multimedia. The dual-core processor with LTE connectivity is meant to facilitate rich media of all types, from video chats to streaming movies. And while the Bionic makes good on that promise, its battery has a hard time keeping pace. While the 1700 mAh battery was able to survive a full day's use of light email, web, texts and voice calls, it didn't do so hot when it came to streaming media.
I streamed Netflix over LTE for 15 minutes and lost close to 15 percent battery with no other applications running. At that rate, you might be able to watch a feature-length movie on an airplane before returning to the wall charger for extra juice. Suffice it to say that Bionic users are probably going to want to purchase an additional battery or some other supplemental power solution.
But it's not necessarily just the battery that users will have to worry about with these new superphones; it's also data usage they'll be tracking. I've often thought about relinquishing my iPhone's unlimited plan with AT&T. After all, it's the rare month when I crack 2 GB of data. Then I play with a device like the Bionic and banish the thought.
After just two hours of streaming Netflix, I went through more than 400 MB of data with ease. While AT&T may blame "data hogs," that paltry 1 percent of their customers, for doing away with unlimited plans, the truth is that they're looking to the future, when devices like the Bionic and LTE networks are the norm. My message to AT&T users: a Bionic lookalike is headed your way and so is an LTE network, so hang on to that unlimited plan as long as you can.
The Good, Bad and Preinstalled
Motorola added a few niceties to the cache of preinstalled "bloatware" for which Android devices have become infamous, but it's also included a few antiquated applications that few will really want on their new device.
For starters, the Motoprint is a nice addition to the preinstalled catalog. The Motoprint application allows users to print remotely from their device directly to a printer installed on the home Wi-Fi network. Additionally, Bionic users will be privy to the full version of QuickOffice, as well as Citrix Receiver for securely accessing enterprise applications. I also enjoyed the ZumoCast application, which allows users to stream content from their desktops directly to the Bionic.
On the flipside, Bionic owners also will be privy to less desirable titles seen on other Motorola devices. Let's Play Golf 2, Blockbuster and other superfluous titles come pre-installed. Titles like these are becoming part of the Android bargain, but they kind of fly in the face of customer satisfaction judging by the reaction seen on many Android blogs (re: How do I get rid of this crapware?!?).
Gratuitous Accessories Anyone?
Motorola's expensive accessory scheme becomes evident with the Bionic's mini USB and HDMI-out ports positioned closely together on the side of the device. The Lapdock ($300), HD Station ($100), Standard Dock ($40), Webtop adaptor ($30) and Vehicle Navigation Dock ($40), many of which were originally introduced with the Atrix for AT&T, are now available for the Bionic. The user who chooses to indulge in all of the aforementioned could spend in excess of $800 with a two-year contract.
What is disheartening about these accessories is not just their price but rather that they are compatible only with the Bionic. You can't swap in an Atrix or Photon or any other Motorola device you buy in the future; that would be too practical and efficient a notion for any OEM to grasp. Apple in particular has played this card well and often with its proprietary accessories.
You can check out how many similar accessories worked with the Atrix here.
The Final Word
I'm guessing the Bionic will get a bump down in price sooner rather than later. While it is most definitely a beast, it's also been a long time in coming, giving the likes of Samsung, HTC and Apple time to catch up to those lofty specs. Considering that we're calling an unveiling this past January and subsequent release in September a long time, you could say devices like the Bionic become commonplace rather quickly.
There's no denying that the Bionic is a well-made state-of-the-art superphone. It's aimed at the power user and as such its $299.99 price tag is probably best justified by someone who is going to spend a LOT of time streaming media, uploading and downloading large files and video chatting on their phone. If you're not that person, you might be just as easily satisfied with the more modestly priced HTC Thunderbolt or one of the fancy new Samsung Galaxy phones, or, God forbid, the iPhone 4?